Special Forces personnel of the Mexican Army arrived Tuesday in Tijuana to combat organized crime and to target a specific list of criminals suspected of being behind a wave of violence.
For decades, Tijuana has been a battleground for rival cartels, looking to take over a direct route to transport drugs into the United States. In 2021, homicides in the border city dipped below 2,000 per year for the first time in several years. But March was among the most violent months of 2022, and so far in April at least 121 people have been killed.
For the first time, the Mexican Army on Tuesday released a list of 115 “most wanted” criminals, suspected of fueling the violence in the border region. Officials are hoping the public will help identify them and report the suspects’ whereabouts.
Among their targets is David López Jiménez, also known as “Cabo 20,” who is suspected by state prosecutors of being responsible for ordering the murder of Tijuana photojournalist Margarito Martínez Esquivel.
On Jan. 17, Martínez, 49, who covered crime and security issues in Tijuana, was shot to death outside his home as he left for work after lunch on the city’s troubled southside. Six days after Martínez’s slaying, another well-known Tijuana reporter, Lourdes Maldonado, was murdered outside her home. Two years earlier she had publicly told Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador she feared for her life.
Three men were arrested on Feb. 9 in connection with Maldonado’s death. Three other individuals have been held over for trial in Baja California for allegedly murdering Martínez. Prosecutors say the group mistakenly believed Martínez was responsible for information published in Zeta, a investigative news weekly, and on social networks that exposed the network of Jiménez or “Cabo 20.”
General Francisco Javier Hernández Almanza, Baja California state coordinator for the National Guard, said the 200 Special Forces soldiers who just arrived in the border city on Tuesday from central Mexico will join another 3,000 soldiers already deployed in the area to “strengthen the rule of law and the development of daily activities” in Tijuana.
The troops form a joint task force aimed at combating organized crime and preventing homicides. Members of local and state authorities, the Attorney General’s office, the National Guard and the the Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA) will also be a part of the task force, according to Almanza.
Almanza said the troops will be deployed to patrol dangerous neighborhoods and directed by investigators to specific addresses where criminal suspects may be located.
Local authorities can sometimes be out-gunned in Mexico by the cartel leaders they are attempting to catch. Almanza said the additional troops will also provide necessary back-up to Tijuana police, if necessary.
He stressed the group would remain committed to respecting the human rights of regular citizens, even while the border becomes more militarized.
“As Special Forces, they have many specialties in combat,” he said.
Lining up underneath a 50-meter-by-30-meter Mexican flag, the 200 newly-assigned troops presented an impressive display of force, but Almanza said other resources would still be needed to bring peace to Baja California. He mentioned the need for better technology to combat the high-tech capabilities of some criminal organizations.
According to an INEGI National Urban Public Security Survey of Baja California residents, an increase in the perception of insecurity was reflected in Baja California during the first quarter of the year. In Tijuana it increased as measured by the survey’s index from 76.4 in December 2021 to 81.4 in March 2022, exceeding Mexico’s national average by more than 15 points.
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